It is one thing to book one of the largest venues at the Fringe. It is quite another to earn it. Rhod Gilbert more than justifies his place on the biggest stages in the country, with a show that leaves you with tears of laughter streaming down your face. The Book of John addresses the Welsh comedian’s seven-year hiatus from stand-up comedy, and it has been quite a seven years for him. What he exports from this tumultuous, difficult time in his life is a show where every line is met with a cacophony of laughter and admiration.
Most big comedians will make light of topics such as Brexit and Trump, but Gilbert stays far clear of such things (he is more wound up about Ant and Dec). Instead, this show is about a man called John, who would infuriate Gilbert to no end but would prove crucial in overcoming the various pot shots that life took at him. The “irritating twat” proved to be his salvation – the biblical suggestions of his name cannot be ignored – and it is the absurd conversations with John that give Gilbert’s show its material.
Gilbert is on absolute fire. He is animated, vocal and almost flustered. He’s pouring his feelings out in the way he knows best; through boundary pushing comedy (a dark River Phoenix joke is a touch of genius in context). The response to these stories is not a polite ripple of smirks. It is the kind of raucous, overpowering laughter that leaves your mouth dry and forces your eyes shut. Gilbert never misses a beat and reins his audience in with some unbelievably funny stories, his exasperated delivery making them all the more brilliant to hear.
As funny as The Book of John is, it is equally insightful. Gilbert deals with some heavy themes in his show: strokes, heart attacks, family bereavement and struggling to have children, to name but a few. His jestering is the foundation for a powerful message about masculinity, openness and recovery that by the end proves deeply moving. Gilbert charts a clear journey of self-recognition and recuperation that, beneath the gut-busting comedy, has real impact. It is this remarkably integrated significance that makes Gilbert’s show stand out from the rest. For all the ensuing hilarity, there is a humbleness from Gilbert in the face of hardship that should inspire us all.